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General History

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Showing 1 - 20 from 38 entries

> Images of a tour in Palestine 100 years ago
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> Sumud series: Interview Adnan Musallam
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> Margery Kempe in the Holy Land- c. 1438
> In Their Image: Jerusalem in European Travel Writings
> Sports History in Palestine
> Al-Nakba of 1948, Dr Khalil Nakhleh
> The Nakba – 60 Years of Dignity and Justice Denied
> Maqdisi: An 11th Century Palestinian Consciousness
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In Their Image: Jerusalem in European Travel Writings
submitted by Jerusalem Quarterly

Issam Nassar

Jerusalem Quarterly
October 2003
Issue 19

I propose to discourse here, for a little while, on a body of men whose works form a staple ingredient in the supply of literary food consumed by our friend the "reading public." Every now and then a young gentleman returns from Greece or Egypt, with a beard and an M.S. In a week or two, the new journal of Travels in the East is announced, and a new "oriental traveller" takes his place among the "wise men" who have preceded him.1

-The Illustrated London News

Jerusalem in European Travel Writings

European travellers to Palestine in the nineteenth century arrived with certain attitudes about the land, its history, people and sites that were essentially a product of European knowledge and imagination regarding Palestine and the East in general.

Such knowledge was not only a result of Europe's historical encounters with Palestine, but was continuously shaped and reshaped by what the visitors themselves were writing. Nineteenth-century visitors to Palestine were often looking for the things they read about in previous travel narratives. For example, when Benjamin Disraeli arrived in the port city of Jaffa in 1831, he visited a person whose grandfather had been mentioned by Comte de Volney in Voyage en Syrie et en Egypte more than forty years earlier. The grandfather was Jean Damiani, described by Volney as a descendent of a Venetian family that had migrated long ago to Palestine. However,according to Disraeli, the young Damiani was far from thrilled by Volney's mention of his grandfather. In fact, as Disraeli noted, he "was so appalled by our learning" of his grandfather "that had we not been Englishmen, he would have taken us for Sorcerers."2

Since neither Damiani was an individual of any importance in the political or religious life of Palestine, it is striking that they appeared in the narratives of two of the most famous European visitors to Palestine. It is also significant to note that in the same letter Disraeli chose not to describe Jerusalem in detail, but referred his sister to Edward Clarke's 1801 description of the city. Disraeli's references to earlier travellers imply not only that he - and his fellow travellers - were assigning authority to the earlier texts, but also indicate that his choice of places to visit was based on the books he had read before his departure. In a sense, his visit to Jerusalem was taking place in the context of earlier visits by his compatriots.

Disraeli was but one of many travellers who employed and incorporated earlier texts into their own. It is important to keep in mind that such a construction of knowledge was occurring within the larger context of European colonialism and domination of large portions of the earth's surface. This expansion was justified not only on the basis of the economic and political needs of Europe, but was often explained by the rhetoric of racial and cultural differences. Therefore, it is important that a distinction be made between the knowledge on Palestine or what Michel Foucault refers to as the "discourse" - and Palestine itself.3 Since discourse presents narratives and disseminates through social institutions, its production is linked therefore with the context - social and political - in which it is produced and with the procedures through which it is distributed.4

In this sense the attitudes of the British visitors towards Jerusalem must be placed less in the context of Jerusalem itself and more in the context of Britain, its social institutions, and its - and Europe's - relation to, and ambitions for, Jerusalem at the time. It is only through this context that it is possible to speak of a general European - in this case British - attitude towards Palestine. Edward Said refers to "textual attitudes"5 which grant certain authority to texts over the material reality itself. To explain his point, Said wrote that this attitude is the kind of "view attacked by Voltaire in Candide, or even the attitude to reality satirized by Cervantes in Don Quixote." These writers knew well, he argued, "that it is a fallacy to assume that the swarming, unpredictable, and problematic mess in which human beings live can be understood on the basis of what books - texts -say."6

The attitude of nineteenth-century European travellers to Palestine can be described as "textual," because it stemmed primarily from a body of already-existing European texts. For most travellers at the time, the real Palestine was the one described in the books rather than the one they saw before them.

Said explores the relationship between European colonization - or plans to colonize the eastern Mediterranean and the holding of textual attitudes. He argues that Napoleon's attitude towards Egypt was an example, in that Napoleon's knowledge of Egypt came from books, i.e., Volney's Voyage, as previously pointed out. Said maintains that it was precisely the knowledge that Napoleon received from books that made him desire to colonize Egypt: it taught him about an Orient that is silent, open to European dominion, and available because Europeans alone can understand it. Said wrote:

A text purporting to contain knowledge about something actual . . . is not easily dismissed. Expertise is attributed to it. The authority of academics, institutions, and governments can accrue to it . . . Most important, such texts can create not only knowledge but also the very reality they appear to describe. In time such knowledge and reality produce a tradition, or what Michel Foucault calls a discourse, whose material presence or weight, not the originality of a given author, is really responsible for the texts produced out of it.7

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